W. W. Cruickshank

Schoolmaster of genius
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The Independent Online

William Walker Cruickshank, schoolmaster: born Keith, Banffshire 20 December 1912; MBE 1944; married 1941 Molly Dicken (died 1960; one son, one daughter); died Dorchester 24 November 2003.

W. W. Cruickshank was a schoolmaster of genius, who with his equally remarkable colleague E. P. C. Cotter helped to produce more than 100 Oxbridge entrance award- winners (Scholars, Exhibitioners) in the St Paul's School eighth (sixth) form in a period from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s of the last century. Brilliant Pauline classical schoolmasters go in pairs: Hillard and Botting, North and Hillard. Cotter and Cruickshank rank alongside them. Horace's poor schoolmaster Orbilius, with whom Dr Cruickshank liked to compare himself, would have had to look to his laurels.

Born in 1912, the son of an Episcopalian minister, William Walker Cruickshank was educated at Rossall School and Brasenose College, Oxford, from where he graduated in Literae Humaniores in 1936. His 1955 London University doctoral thesis on "Topography, Movement and Supply in the Warfare of Ancient Greece, South of Thessaly and Epirus" was completed in his spare time and examined by the eminent Professor of Ancient History at University College, A.H.M. Jones. It reflected Cruickshank's war experience first in military intelligence specialising in topography in 1940, and later at the Cairo GHQ of the Middle East theatre from 1941 to 1945, during which among other notable achievements he managed to clash fiercely with a certain Brigadier J. Enoch Powell, another classicist of distinction.

He began his career as a sixth-form schoolmaster at Christ College, Brecon, from 1936 to 1939, and resumed teaching after the Second World War at Vine Hall in Kent from 1945 to 1947, before being appointed, on a temporary basis, at St Paul's in London (then in Hammersmith), in 1947. From 1954 to 1973 he served as Head of Classics, taking his turn also as Commanding Officer of the St Paul's Combined Cadet Force.

Classics then and there meant an almost unrelieved diet of Latin and Greek language and literature, followed - at some distance - by Ancient Greek and Roman History. Pupils typically spent some 27 periods out of 35 each week on such fare, and, since they had taken their O Levels at 14 or 15, had the special pleasure of sitting A Levels in two successive years, followed by the seventh-term Oxbridge entrance. Cruickshank took particular care to go minutely through a pupil's multitudinous seen and unseen translations and compositions, not so much face to face but side by side. This would often be to the pupil's extreme chagrin and embarrassment, as he was confronted not only by a sea of red ink but also by a grade that scraped the lower reaches of the alphabetic barrel, as not even the question marks and brackets could disguise.

In his retirement he amused himself with a garden and bees in Dorset and by keeping up with his former pupils' careers; in the case of those who became academics, he took a delight in purchasing their latest book and adding it to an expanding shelf devoted to supporting that diversion. On his 80th birthday in 1992 he was presented with a Festschrift entitled Apodosis or "Return Gift" - the contributors including Alan Cameron, Michael Crawford, Richard Gombrich, John North, Robert Parker and Martin West. It was a small but heartfelt return for the very large gift he had bestowed on so many pupils consistently and devotedly over so many years.

It also prints his Latin version of P.G. Wodehouse's "Archibald's Imitation of a Hen Laying an Egg", a classic of that near-defunct genre of composition.

Paul Cartledge